Now just wait a minute folks and let me get a word in edgeways here.
Firstly, this is not my title. Secondly, things have been very busy. Thirdly, I promised to post this interview that was carried out (and has been published in abdridged fashion) for “Muslim Matters” magazine here in Manchester (no relation to Sh Yasir Qadhi’s Yank website) without changing or editing a single word. So yes, it’s very informal (much more refreshing than some of the formal bakwas we do with non-Muslims), the spellings are theirs (Bro I and Sister N under their request but then it’s a hell of a lot of transcribing and a pretty good job too!), but I agreed because it’s kinda funny and I know all you miserable lot deserve a giggle after you Wahaabees cocked up ‘Eed again by doing it on Wednesday (or should that be the other way round? ).
More from me sometime over the next week on the latest news with PG insha’Allah.
“An Interview with Imam AE”
I: Assalamualaikum Ustadh!
AE: Walaikumsalam wa rahmatullah bro. What’s happening?
I: Thanks for agreeing to this interview although I hope you don’t expect any favours.
AE: Bro, you’re not exactly Letterman and you’re not exactly Oprah. And I’m not exactly Michael Jackson with a closet full of celebrity secrets either. Actually saying that…
I: Okay okay! Let’s start here with my list. Firstly, some of our readers will not know who you are so can we like start right at the beginning?
AE: As in right in the beginning?
I: Yes please.
AE: Err, okay. Well my name is Niamatullah but everyone called me either Nee-Mat or just Mat from all my lazy sod colleagues and mates and I was born in Barking, East London and spent my early years in East Ham before moving to Ilford in Essex just before starting secondary school there. I did okay with GCSEs and then did my A-Levels in a place called Seven Kings which is where I first started to practise Islam in a more substantial sense. Up until then I was a standard Muslim Brit-Pak, I used to attend the mosque regularly with my Father who is a strict conservative Muslim, and so I had a general appreciation of Allah and His Messenger (saw) but nothing too sincere or focused. My father had put me in a hifz-class whilst I was still in East Ham and before I moved to Ilford and I was doing well but then things slowed down in Ilford and my school studies took over.
I: What happened in this place called Seven Kings?
AE: Well, I met a few brothers there and I’ll protect their identities to preserve their reward and we started to hang out together, pray together and encourage each other to try and refrain as much as possible from all the dodgy things we’d get up to. It was a bit like going to Uni for me because it was quite a way away from home and I now had an excuse to be away from home until late so as you can imagine, it was hard work resisting.
I: You mean the DJ-ing? Tell us a bit more about that.
AE: Well, I know it might not fit with the practising Mum and Dad and the hifz and all the rest of it, but I was completely obsessed with music. I used to work at HMV and WHS as well which didn’t help. I had a ridiculously large music collection, a lot of old-skool stuff, hip-hop and R+B was starting to get big in those days, and I belonged to a club of DJs who were trialling the mixing of CDs instead of the normal 1210s that vinyl DJs would use to mix. So we’d get white-labels on CD which of course made me a very popular young man at the time.
I: Do you think that the DJing might play a part in your effectiveness as a speaker, because there seem to a be a few such brothers around who are involved in dawah who used to be DJs?
AE: Maybe, I dunno. Public speaking has never been an issue for me and perhaps being in front of people regularly possibly helped. But what I do know is that I was completely consumed with my music and not the people around me. After I took a year out to work in Central London and earn some cash, I decided to study Pharmacy in Manchester which was clearly a major stage in life for me, you know, being so far away from home and all the rest of it, but I started to take my music even more seriously, sampling, mixing and presenting in various places. Yet at the same time, I was living with some non-Muslims whom I was debating life, God and Islam with every night and I became stronger in my Deen slowly.
I: And then you got kicked out of the halls.
AE: God! You’ve really been preparing for this! Maybe you do have a future in this game…
I: Come on Sheikh, this is old news from years back you told us. But I think it’s really amazing what happened as a result, so please carry on for readers who won’t know anything about it.
AE: Basically I got into an argument with this drunk racist and unfortunately I have been burdened with a very poor patience threshold and so we had a fight and he got hurt and he copped me in and I got in a lot of trouble. So I was kicked out of my Uni halls and was therefore homeless, and I missed my parents visiting me for the first time since I left for Manchester which made them swear that they’d never speak to me ever again because I was actually in a cell being cautioned for what happened the night before, and I almost got kicked out of my course as well unless I fulfilled a number of conditions, which I did Alhamdulillah with a combination of hard work and the help and support of some of the practising brothers I had met around campus and in the Masjid.
I: Your darkest moment?
AE: Wallahee, you cannot imagine how dark that time was. If I wasn’t Muslim I would have committed suicide. I was on the street, my parents didn’t want to know me, the cell was freezing and had been a disastrous experience, and my Dean told me that he’d been asked to kick me off the course. Man, it was a disaster, just a disaster. And then Subhanallah as the saying goes, it is only after the darkest part of the night that we get the breaking Fajr of dawn. My dawn was a few brothers who not only put me up for a few days, prepped me for my ultimatum with my Dean, spoke to my parents for me and then found me a place to stay in for the remaining years of my degree course.
I: Ah, Zakariyyah Masjid right?
AE: Amazing man, amazing. I moved into the top floor of a Masjid for crying out loud. I never saw that one coming, and I don’t think they did either! Basically there’s this great Tablighi Masjid in Whalley Range in Manchester where the Imam would live upstairs but he then moved out because his family came over and so I had it to myself. And that was the beginning for me.
I: And then you became a Sheikh!
AE: Just watch it son! I’ll do a Bee Gees on you and just walk out you know…
I: Come on Sheikh, just kidding. But seriously, that was the start right of your proper studying Islam?
AE: It was the first day of the rest of my life. I met my teacher, the honourable Sheikh Kehlan a few days later and I’ve now been with him for nearly 13 years. I’d spend every moment possible studying with him, sitting in his circles in the Bukhari Centre (in Didsbury, Manchester) and the rest of the time I was learning Qur’an, Tajweed and Arabic with the Libyans who would teach at Zakariyyah Masjid every morning after Fajr. It was like being in an Islamic University! My Qur’an teacher was called Sheikh Abu Abdur-Rehman al-Leebee and to be able spend nearly every morning with him learning Arabic and Tajweed for a few years whilst I was meant to be studying Pharmacy was just incredible.
I: And then you went abroad?
AE: Throughout my University years I would go abroad for about 4-5 months at the end of term every year, and so I was able to go to Pakistan by myself and study Hanafi fiqh in my home area of Swat in the NWFP which is where my tribe of the Naser Kheil is originaly from and which is unfortunately being destroyed by lunatics at the moment, may Allah protect it. That was also the first time I performed Umrah by myself. The year after I went to Madinah and studied Arabic and the Qur’an there, and benefitted greatly from an old Afghani Sheikh there at the time and his students which was a nice experience for me. My Arabic was getting better and then returning with the scholars here in the UK including a hadeeth scholar who had just moved to Leeds at that time by the name of Sheikh Juday also started to broaden my horizons. After I finished my Pharmacy degree I was able to go to a few more countries properly for a 1-2 years including West Africa and Egypt and back to Pakistan again as well.
I: Do you advise all budding students of knowledge to do the same?
AE: That reuires a real long answer but basically I think it’s a must to go abroad, especially for the language and the nuances of studying and the adab related to it. But also the travelling, the different scholars you study from, the different methodologies, different madhabs, different beliefs even, the different people and cultures you are forced to make a go of it in – I wouldn’t swap my experience for anything in the world. But the reality today is that post 9-11, studying abroad properly for me has been ruined.
I: What do you mean?
AE: I’ll give you an example of Mauritania. I was lucky enough to be invited to go there before 9-11, I think in 1999, by a great scholar called Sheikh Muhammad Hasan al-Dadu who directed me to a madressah there belonging to his Uncle, a senior scholar by the name of Sheikh Salim Wald Wudud. Now it was hard work to get there then and that was considered a politically stable time then, but the few weeks I was there before I became severely ill was the most beneficial few weeks I’ve ever had. I learned more there and with such pure people and students and teachers than I did in perhaps one year being somewhere else. But that whole vibe has gone now. After 9-11 it became very difficult for practising Muslims to travel around like the free new-age hippies we used to be dallying around Europe. I tried to go back to Mauritania to in 2002 for extended study and they wouldn’t even let me into the country! And then on my return, I got arrested by the Moroccan authorities when I decided to study there instead and basically insisted that I return back home, for no reason whatsoever!
I: That’s mental.
AE: Hey, studying anywhere abroad whether Egypt, Syria, Saudi, Yemen wherever all have difficulties and problems and you shouldn’t be scared off by that as long as you’re straight-up and have nothing to hide. But I’d advise Western students to go Egypt for example instead of with the Shanqitis in Mauritania only for the reason that you’re likely to be harassed continuously there and the British Consul there is particularly unhelpful and a rather dodgy character, rather unlike the British Embassies normally in other countries who usually offer real help in difficult situations.
I: So what about Egypt?
AE: It’s a great place and I benefitted immensely there masha’Allah.
I: You’ve been lucky enough to meet many great scholars and probably still do now, so let me ask you 4 questions about your meeting the scholars: what’s been your greatest moment, your greatest regret, your worst moment, and give us the latest news the last time you were in contact with them.
AE: Ha ha, that’s not a bad set of questions! Okay, the first is easy: the best moment was to sit at the feet of Sheikh Muhammad Salim Wald Wadud. My biggest regret was not meeting Sheikh Uthaimeen. My worst moment was err… probably only recently, being told off by Sheikh Juday (don’t ask) and as for the latest news then being Ramadhan means everyone is very busy but I saw Sheikh Kehlan today and he was very well Alhamdulillah, and I spoke to Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah yesterday and he was well and sending his salams upon the brothers and sisters here. I was with Sheikh Salman al-Awdah at a conference a few months back and he was looking good too may Allah preserve them all.
I: Right then, let me have a look what’s next on this list.
AE: Come on surely that’s enough. This is taking ages!
I: Ok, I’ve got some less serious stuff here and then we’ll end with some current stuff.
I: Favourite food?
AE: Easy. Food is a Kansas spicy chicken-burger with cheese. Drink is a chocolate milkshake from Baskin Robbins which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. Dessert is Haagen Daz Strawberry Cheesecake. Lovely.
I: Favourite sport?
AE: Don’t have one, I like all sport far too much. Obviously cricket and football are big favourites but I’m into golf and athletics and all the obscure stuff as well. I’ve just heard we lost to the Yankees in the Ryder Cup as well which is a big shame – I would have probably watched that if it wasn’t in Ramadhan.
I: Pet hate?
AE: What, just one? You know full well that I have many pet hates so you can’t play that game with me. Firstly, incompetence. Wallahi, I can’t stand incompetence. It makes my veins pop. Secondly, lame khutbahs and lame recitation. Thirdly, poor spelling, grammar, punctuation. Drives me bananas, especially from folks in the West who get a FREE education! And lastly for now with George Bush on his way out, my biggest pet hate is Sarah Palin. Pretty girl but Allahu Akbar I didn’t think it could get any worse. I have a Ramadhan confession to make: I saw her interview with Kate something from some Yank news channel on Youtube and when she was asked about foreign policy experience and she said something like, “Well, I’ve seen Russia from here on the mainland before” I nearly vomitted and broke my fast…
AE: Not funny man, not funny. Wallahee that’s scary man.
I: Ok, ok. Right, who’s your favourite actress?
AE: Watch it bro.
I: What book are you reading at the moment? And what else is on your book list?
AE: Well, obviously it’s the Qur’an and nothing else at the moment. Next after Ramadhan will be the Qur’an again: the little lad Eesa has challenged me to finish the Qur’an from cover to cover according to the narration of Qaloon an Naafi by the second Friday after Eed so that’s going to be hard work.
I: And then?
AE: Then, it’ll probably be to revise the Sunan of Imam al-Nasai in preparation for a Maqra’a that we’ll be doing here in Manchester over the Christmas break insha’Allah.
I: You’ve really been pushing this Maqra’a thing haven’t you? Can you explain what it is for our readers?
AE: Firstly, I can’t completely take credit for being the first to introduce it in the UK – that belongs to Sheikh Haitham Haddad in London, as he was the one who committed to it first masha’Allah. Secondly, what we’re talking about is to effectively speed-read though a complete text in one sitting as such, and it has a number of benefits and many fans from famous scholars throughout Islamic history. You can find more about it in a detailed article I wrote about it on the PG site.
I: Which reminds me, what has happened to the Prophetic Guidance site?
AE: The PG folks have been busy working on it and I think it’ll be up soon insha’Allah. It’ll have hundreds of gigabytes of material on it so it’s taking a while to get up!
I: Busy with what? We haven’t heard of anything from you for ages! You were teaching here at Cheadle as the Imam and there were articles, lectures and conferences and it just seems that you’ve gone off the radar! Have you retired?
AE: Easy tiger! That was cheeky. Anyway, no not at all. As you know I’m still here at Cheadle Masjid. As for the public circles and stuff then a combination of lack of time and re-prioritising has meant that I’ve cut back on some of that. The ‘Uddah class will be taken over by one of the local scholars here insha’Allah and I’ve got a small Qur’an circle and an advanced fiqh circle in Arabic that I’ve been preparing for a few brothers who have shown particular proficiency. Also I’ve been busy preparing for lectures and courses in other places outside England. I’ve had to cut down general populist writing because of lack of time, and I want to finish off and get my other projects released as soon as possible and off my neck, as it’s been just far too long.
I: Is this Nur al-Basa’ir the fiqh book?
AE: Hahaha! You couldn’t wait to say that could you? Yes, that’s one of the pieces that has actually been translated but needs to be properly reviewed.
I: What else can we look forward to?
AE: One is a translation of a great book called “al-Ijma” by a scholar called Ibn al-Mundhir. The other is a complete study of the Qur’anic chapter al-Kahf which I’ve been working on for ages and will probably be a little while yet. I also hope to finish a complete commentary to al-Adab al-Mufrad of Sayyidina Bukhari insha’Allah.
I: Hey, what happened to that “Human Life” book?
AE: If you mean “The Sanctity of Human Life” then that’s a long, sad story. Basically I agreed to translate and edit a niece relevant piece on the issue but the Publishers didn’t allow me to actually even get half way through the job before they went ahead and printed it without informing me. It’s a shame really, a mistake, but an okay publication missed out on becoming a great and effective piece of work.
I: I have to ask this so don’t shout: why haven’t you given the Khutbah for so long? I don’t have dirt with me here but there’s very few Imams in this country who can affect people like you do masha’Allah.
AE: Hahaha! The fasting one is always delighted with water at iftar time.
I: Have I just been cussed there?
I: Forget it, I can’t be bothered.
AE: So are we done here bro?
I: Nearly Sheikh, just a few more. Tell us a bit about your work with the non-Muslims, interfaith and the Government because we know that you’ve busy with that.
AE: Why, you want some PDFs written against me? Anyway, I’ve been working with a group called the C-100 and also the World Economic Forum for a few years on all various issues. It’s eye-opening and beneficial, and it’s an opportunity to deliver a message from my community in an orthodox manner instead of some regressive quacks misleading people, and it’s an opportunity to take advantage of the very latest research and study in anthropology and various social and political factors affecting our communities in the world today.
I: You studied anthropology and the social sciences here in Manchester before didn’t you, whilst you were studying Islam? I remember a lecture you gave about that once.
AE: I did and I tell you it’s a vital science. Too many Muslims believe that it’s enough just to read the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldoon and that’s enough anthropology and sociology to use with their little bit of fiqh and hadeeth, and then they want to teach the people and lead communities. No, it needs to be taught properly by experienced experts. And experience is probably the most important thing here.
I: Any advice on this now for our readers?
AE: Absolutely. After studying with some great teachers here in the UK such as Sheikh Juday and Sheikh Suhaib Hasan, Manchester has been blessed with the most insightful and profound social scientist scholar in this country in Sheikh Kehlan al-Jubury masha’Allah. And no that’s not bias, it’s just a fact. Everyone should go to all of his lessons and hang on to every single word that he utters. Sheikh Kehlan was the sole and single reason why I left London to move to Manchester to continue studying with him.
I: Sorry to take you back but I forgot to ask you about your time back in London. Just tell us a little bit about the dawah there because you were busy there as well weren’t you?
AE: Well I used to have a circle there called “Logical Progression” named after a favourite album of mine which was quite popular, probably because it was a very low-key informal kind of set-up. It was popular with non-Muslims too and we had a few Shahadahs masha’Allah… not martyrs by the way for any MI6 snoops out there, but new Muslims!! But yeah, then I got involved as a Khateeb and teacher for a new Masjid called al-Ansar Centre in Essex and before that I was the Khateeb in Basildon in Essex for a while, which was all good experience. I used my evenings to study with Sheikh Suhaib Hasan at the time which was extremely beneficial and I’m very close to him may Allah preserve him.
I: And what about his son Usama?
AE: What about him?
I: Okay. Forget it. Any final advice for us?
AE: (A long pause) Ok, here are three random things that I’ve had re-emphasised to me over the last month that have affected me deeply:
1. Don’t read the Qur’an in less than 3 days because it won’t make the impact it should, but make sure you at least try and finish it in a week to prove to yourself just what you can do when you put your mind to it. And then once you’ve got that monkey off your back, trying to do it again and becoming regular with the Qur’an will be much easier insha’Allah.
2. Read Sahih al-Bukhari from cover to cover, and then read it again, and then read it again. It is just the most profound and incredible book ever. I am becoming seriously consumed with this great piece of work 20 years after reading it first time round.
3. A Sikh friend of mine lost his 3 year old daughter to an asthma attack a few weeks back. He’s been inconsolable since and I was speaking to him and he just kept on repeating the same statement to me like a man possessed: look after your children. So let me say the same, your children are more valuable to you than you can ever imagine. Don’t let something terrible have to happen to you to realise it.
AE: Yeah bro, Alhamdulillah ala kulli haal. Alhamdulillah li ni’matil Islam wa kafaa biha ni’mah.
I: Sheikh, I know this was way out there sometimes and it took a lot of time and we haven’t had that from you for ages, but we’re really grateful jazaakallaho khairan.
AE: Hey no problem, it was fun to be honest, much better than all the formal rubbish we have to do sometimes. Don’t forget us in your duas either, wasalamualaikum.